Elections, Sherrie Peif, Weld County

Weld County Commissioners split on whether to send charter change to voters

GREELEY – The Weld County Board of Commissioners were split Monday on whether to move forward on asking voters whether a unique part of the Weld County Charter should be removed.

The board voted 3-2 to have County Attorney Bruce Barker draft language that would ask voters in November to remove provisions for the Weld County Council from the 40-year old document, with Chairwoman Julie Cozad and Commissioner Sean Conway casting the no votes.

Commissioner Steve Moreno said he was only voting yes to see the ballot language. He was opposed to the overall idea at this time.

Weld County is one of only two counties in Colorado that is home rule. Because of that, those who wrote the Weld Charter put in place the council, a separate elected board of officials who are not paid but oversee certain aspects of county government to act as a checks and balances on the system.

Those items include setting salaries of all Weld’s elected officials, the ability to order performance audits, the ability to appoint commissioners when vacancies are present, and the ability to remove commissioners from their office without recall if they are convicted or indicted for criminal activity.

However, the charter does not grant the board its own budget and does not give the council its own legal representation if differences arise between the council and the commissioners. Essentially, everything must still be approved by the commissioners.

This setup had caused some over the years to call for the council to be disbanded.  Those who have publicly spoken against the council are mostly former commissioners, former council members who left the board amid controversy or close friends and family of current commissioners.

One of those against, former commissioner Bill Jerke, told the board Monday that he and other former commissioners met more than six months ago to discuss how to disband the council, but he thought that had been abandoned until last week when one of those former commissioners came to the board with three former council members.

Jerke said he believes the council is a layer of government that is not needed, and suggested if they did have a ballot question that it includes an annual rotating performance audit of all the departments in Weld.

However, Jerke said if a performance audit on the commissioners that is scheduled to be released Aug. 21 comes back with a negative light, the board of commissioners should probably not move forward.  The audit was ordered by the council after allegations of misdeeds were brought to their attention by several people. The county is also under audit by the Internal Revenue Service over mileage reimbursement taken by one commissioner, Barbara Kirkmeyer, from work to home.

“If they come in with really minor housekeeping then I would say procede,” Jerke said. “But if it comes back and says that you guys are really screwing up somehow, then it would look like retribution. It wouldn’t look good.”

The board heard from more than a dozen people, only two of which were in favor of the commissioner putting it before the voters.  Most everyone cited the same reasons: Those against the measure said there is a need for oversight and a need for an independent salary-setting authority. Those in favor of the measure said the council has become a board that attract two kinds of people: Those using it as a stepping stone for bigger political aspiration and those with an ax to grind.

Current County Council member Gene Stille said he was adamantly opposed to dissolving the council because there is not enough time for public input, there are too many functions of the council that a ballot question won’t address, and it acts as a go between for residents and the commissioners.

“If there is no County Council, why have a Home Rule Charter?” Stille said. “Most of the citizens find the board (of commissioners) too intimidating. I have found that out myself.”

Many agreed with Stille’s points that it was moving way too fast and that there wasn’t enough time between now and the election to thoroughly educate the voters about what the council is and whether it’s needed.

One person said it was about the idea of less government, but most thought the board should step back and reconsider it over the next year for the 2018 election. Others questioned why the board abandoned a plan to organize a charter review board to look at possible changes, with one quoting Mike Freeman saying last fall that this was not for the board to decide, and if residents wanted this on the ballot they should petition it.

Here is some of what the commissioners said:

Steve Moreno (currently No) – “I agree with a lot of the comments that have been made that it may be perceived we’re doing this for the wrong reasons, that this is rushed. My personal feeling right now is I could not be in favor of putting it on the ballot.”

Moreno also made it clear his intentions were not due to threats of recall.

“For the record, I am not concerned about a recall. I’ve been elected four times to represent the people. I’ve been appointed by the Governor, and I receive this support because I do listen. I try to be fair for the greater good of this county. I love this county.”

Mike Freeman (currently undecided leaning yes) – It isn’t about us eliminating the county council, it’s about us letting the voters determine whether they feel it is necessary. That is a conversation that has been going on for 20 years. At the end of the day this gives them the opportunity to say no or solidify the fact that we do need a county council.

Sean Conway (No) – “I think we ought to listen to the citizens we heard this morning. I think five days discussion since this thing was brought up looks really bad. I’m not opposed to putting anything on the ballot. But I think there is a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it. And what we have here is a lot of misperceptions in terms of why we’re doing it. I think we go back to the discussion of putting together a charter review committee.”

Barbara Kirkmeyer (Yes) – “I had 110 people at my house on Saturday, and the topic was the County Council. And nobody really knows what the County Council is or what it does. And they think they should get to vote on it.”

Kirkmeyer said when the council finally did its job it took too long, and that she didn’t care what perception looked like.

“It took them over a year to respond. I know it was brought up that it looks suspicious, but hey folks the audit is what the audit is. It’s basically done at this point. There is nothing we can do about that.”

Julie Cozad (No) – “I would have like to have seen a lot more discussion, thought and research done prior to just coming to us last week and asking us to put this on the ballot so quickly. While I do support the idea of letting the residents of this county vote on issues, at this time, I think the timing on it is quite problematic. I’m not going to be able to support the motion today.”

The board will have one more public hearing on the matter on Aug. 28 before making its final decision. They originally planned to hold the hearing this Wednesday, but Conway will be out of town and Moreno will be gone all next week. Cozad felt all five commissioners needed to be present. If the decision were made Monday, the measure would have failed.

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